In the beginning, the growth of body hair was exciting, scary, and slightly gross. All the other changes going on were overwhelming enough, but body hair was visible, like growing breasts, but more private—and dirtier—somehow. My new armpit hair I could hide, but my legs I couldn’t always conceal. I hated my legs already anyway. When faced with the fuzz blooming on my calves, I knew I had to do something.
I knew my mom shaved her legs. Because she knew how to do everything, it was obviously the thing that should be done. It wasn’t easy to talk to my mom about things like this, but I didn’t know anyone else I could ask. I didn’t have the first idea how to use a razor or where to get one.
I asked my mom if I could start shaving my legs. She gave me a look, a look that I had only seen one time previously. It was a mix of embarrassment, disapproval, fear, and disgust. “I don’t know,” she said. Because that was her answer, I knew I had to do it. “Why not?” I asked. “Well, you know if you shave, the hair will grow back thicker and coarser,” she said. She used the almost-whispering voice she used when she asked us if we had to go to the bathroom. “I want to do it anyway,” I said.
So she gave me her razor. She used men’s razors. And soap for shaving cream. The razor was old and slightly rusty. We didn’t have a lot of money, and my mom believed in using things until they fell apart. She showed me how to put a new blade in. Then she left silently; personal hygiene, although necessary, was strictly private in my family and discussed as little as possible.
On my first try I think I skinned myself alive. As I shaved the flesh off my legs, I wondered if it should hurt so much. I also wondered if I should be worried about the blood. My armpits were worse; it’s an awkward angle and you can’t see what you’re doing. After I was certain I had vigorously scraped every place on my body that might have a piece of fuzz on it (except down there, where I couldn’t bear to go), I went into the medicine cabinet and plastered myself with Band-Aids. I cleaned up the mess in the bathroom so it would look as if no one had ever been there. Stealth shaving. I went in fuzzy and came out as a bleeding mummy.
The hair (and skin) didn’t come back for a while. After many more bathroom self-massacres and a little thought, I no longer injured myself when I shaved. But my mother had been right. The hair did grow back thicker and coarser. That’s why, when I glimpsed my mother shaving her upper lip (!!), I didn’t do the same thing.
In college, I went through a period of letting all my hair go, and grow, everywhere. By now my mother said my hairy legs were “disgusting” and insisted I wear pants or long skirts. She asked me if I wanted to borrow her old razor (I swear it was the same one). But I was done with razors. I decided to try waxing. But that’s another story.
Read Part Two of Hair-Razing Chronicles.